The two forgotten Roger Federer shots that best captured the magic of the man with cult following
Every city has those well-informed locals, the soul-keepers of the place, the ones familiar with every nook and cranny. They are known to endorse some pokey down-town joint and mock tourists frequenting the more-expensive popular places.
The vast RF universe, that is Roger Federer’s body work, too has those hidden exquisite spots, regularly frequented on youtube by only the die-hards.
To my tennis family and beyond,
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) September 15, 2022
In his more than 1500 professional matches, Federer has played countless epic games and won incredible rallies. And then there are a couple of shots that are etched in the memory of a select few fans – the ones who are part of the cult that is planning to collectively give up on tennis itself as they can’t bear to watch Grand Slams without the man with a million-watt smile and a billion-dollar game.
A typical evening with Federer came with a lip-smacking buffet of winners. Suddenly during a rally, he would go slightly inside out, unleash a flat forehand crosscourt that would go screaming past the sideline, mind you not the baseline.READ | Roger Federer retires: For tennis lovers, the pedestal he sits on is greater than any podium
He also had a crosscourt winner from the ad court. This one had an acute angle and was slightly loopy. For an opponent parked at the baseline, it was impossible to reach the ball that kissed the point where the sideline met the service line.
Plus there would be the crowd favourites – the single-handed backhand diagonal drive. Hit with an extended backlift, the racket would come down so brutally that it seemed like a sword swung to cut the ball into two. Instead, it would strike the ball with the full racket face and cannon across the net. As it would pass the opponent, the exaggerated follow-through would still not be complete.
Interestingly, the couple of the shots that are embedded in the minds of Federerians aren’t any of these. They are colourful rubies in a diamond pile.
It was beautiful to release the news surrounded by my Mum and Dad and Mirka. Who would have thought that the journey would last this long. Just incredible! pic.twitter.com/0rRAMRSaRu
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) September 16, 2022
They were hit about a decade apart – 2008 and 2017. For the first, Federer was 27, at the peak of his prowess. For the second, he was 35, his body fuelled by the final flicker of the flame inside him. Both were against Rafael Nadal – one on the Wimbledon grass, the other at Australian Open. First was in a losing cause, the second when he got probably the most satisfying win of his long career.
The 2008 Wimbledon final was an iconic event in tennis. It was when Nadal, 22, the ultimate clay courter won his first Wimbledon. If someone wants to understand the Federer-Nadal on-court rivalry, the fourth set tiebreaker of this match was the perfect short synopsis. It captured the essence of their contrasting style of play and also this magical match-up: the raging fire meets the piercing cascading water.AdvertisementREAD | What improvements did Stefan Edberg bring to Roger Federer as a coach?
Some call 2008 Federer’s Wimbledon Miss’ year – understandably since he had won in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009. Federer on grass in those days was invincible. Rafa, 22, looked like a skater. His headband and three-fourths made him look like the ultimate rebel, the disruptor.
In the fourth set, the upset was on the cards. Uncle Toni couldn’t sit, the locals, for whom Federer was one of their own, looked glum. Nadal was on match-point. During the rally, the Spanish challenger pushed the King to the corner. The young Nadal was racing to the net, he wasn’t wrong in thinking that an easy volley was in the way of him winning the crown. He was quick but Federer was lightning quick. He unleashed a phenomenal stroke that The Times would call “probably the best backhand pass that Federer has ever played”.
Even on the point that would have seen him lose his dear Wimbledon crown, Federer’s legs showed no panic. There was no time for the big follow-through, so he innovated a quick firm push with his wrist helping the racket to roll over the ball. Play it on loop but you wouldn’t see how the ball got the power and precision to beat Nadal at the net and land inches inside the baseline. Federer won the set but Nadal the final. But such has been the Swiss star’s charisma that even in his losses there are memories of his triumph.AdvertisementREAD | How a hot-headed Roger Federer turned into a calm and in-control graceful champion
Now to 2017. Federer is a father of four and once-again has to deal with Nadal in a final. The world knows it’s the last time they will be competing. And they weren’t wrong.
In the second game of the third set, Federer hit a one-of-a-kind down the line half-volley. After a longish rally, Federer is pushed to the backhand corner and Nadal hits deep on the forehand side. The ball lands very close to the baseline. Instinct tells you to move back diagonally to retrieve the ball. However, men like Federer do things differently. He darts parallel to the baseline, and miraculously settles into a half-squat, waits for the ball and plays it back with the short back lift as if on a table tennis table.
At the Rod Laver arena, they were shaking their heads in disbelief. This wasn’t about good hands, muscle memory or creative coaching. In Federer’s case, the real talent was stored above the shoulders. As they said about the Brazilian football great Socrates, “When you think he will pass, he shoots, when you think he will shoot, he passes.”
Federer kept his rivals guessing and the world mesmerised. Having travelled with him for so long – suffered and celebrated with him – every fan thinks he knows the man more than the rest. He feels like the well-informed local who prides himself in being familiar with every nook and cranny.Also ReadWatch: Jannik Sinner wins a 46-shot rally against Tommy PaulDoes Steffi Graf ever age? Husband Andre Agassi has the perfect replyNovak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz set to meet again in group stage of Dav...'Never been friends, never been close to Roger Federer': Novak Djokovic s...Advertisement Top Sports News Now
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National Sports Editor
The Indian Express